Sunday, 17 August 2008

Crime in translation

I’ve just received my copy of a book which rejoices in the title Zahada zamcheneho pokoje. This translates (pretty loosely, is my guess) as The Mammoth Book of Locked-Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes, edited by Mike Ashley, which first appeared in 2000 and which features my story ‘Waiting for Godstow’(or, as it has now become, ‘Cekani na Godstowa.’)

It turns out that this a Czech translation – the first time that any of my fiction has appeared in that particular language (as far as I know that is; I once discovered, years after its appearance, a Japanese translation of one of my stories that I’d neither agreed to or been paid for.)

It’s a curious experience to see one’s work translated into a language that one doesn’t understand. Curious, but somehow rather pleasing. Of course, it’s impossible to judge whether the translator has done a good job; there’s certainly a chance that he or she may actually have improved upon the original.

There’s a long-running debate about whether the Crime Writers’ Association is right to have separated its Gold Dagger for the best crime novel of the year in English from the International Dagger for the best novel of the year in translation. I must admit that the issue doesn’t provoke the strong feelings in me that it provokes in some people on each side of the debate. I’ve seen some powerfully reasoned arguments on each side, and in truth I can see merit in both lines of thinking. But either way, I do think it is a good thing that the role of the translator is recognised.


Philip said...

Congratulations on your Czech debut, Martin. The title of the collection translates as 'The Locked Room Mystery'.

I was myself uncertain about the separate dagger for translated novels until a few days ago, when it occurred to me that it might cause certain translators of crime fiction to make more of an effort. What inspired this thought was that, after reading with relish Helene Tursten's first novel, Detective Inspector Huss, in a superb translation by Steven Murray, I then read her next two, The Torso and The Glass Devil in translations by one Katarina E. Tucker. Ghastly, often literal translations, and, I have reason to suspect, done in haste. Tursten is superb, but by the time I'd come across my sixth "In a pedagogic way, Irene said..." and puzzled over "In a cosmopolitan way Irene lead Jonny across the road...", I was seriously thinking of throwing in the towel. And so, maybe the lure of a dagger will help to obviate this sort of disaster. And it is a disaster if first-rate works of any sort are put in the hands of third-rate translators or, of course, those who think that crime fiction does not require the same attention as 'literary' works.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for the translation, Philip, as well as the comment!
I do agree that Steven Murray is one of those good translators who deserves plenty of recogntion.

Jane Finnis said...

Congrats, Martin! My one and only piece of work translated into Czech (to date anyway) was also in one of Mike Ashley's anthologies, the Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunits. It's a great though slightly surreal feeling. They added the suffix "ova" to all the female contributors' names, which made me glad I'm not called Jane Fall, or even Jane Legge...

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Jane. It's impressive how widely translated Mike's anthologies are.